Suppressing a confession

A confession is probably the most damaging evidence that can be admitted against a defendant. If a defendant has confessed or made damning admissions, the most likely approaches become a guilty plea or cooperation against a more culpable individual.

To forestall those approaches, if the facts permit, a criminal defense attorney will move to suppress the confession or incriminating statements. Violations of the following rights may result in suppression:

  • The Fourth Amendment prohibition against detaining or arresting you.
  • The Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination.
  • The Miranda rule and the Fifth Amendment right to counsel it creates.
  • The Sixth Amendment right to counsel.
  • State right to counsel rules and ethical rules governing attorneys’ conduct.
  • The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment bar to the use of involuntary confessions.
  • State rules deeming involuntary confessions unreliable and inadmissible.

For details, see Does your case have a search and seizure issue, Coerced confessions, Failure to give Miranda warnings, and Assertion of right to counsel.

Working with a confession

Even if a defendant has confessed, a criminal defense attorney should investigate and prepare a defense. Especially when the defendant is immature, infirm, or mentally impaired, the police might extract a confession where there was no guilt. DNA exonerations have exposed the phenomenon of false confessions.

Further, some admissions may contain the seeds of a defense:

  • When accused of a rape, a defendant may have admitted the intercourse, but insisted it was consensual.
  • The drug courier may have admitted carrying the package, but asserted that he thought its contents were innocent.
  • The accused fraudster may have explained why he believed his representations were not fraudulent, but true.